Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in April 2008
In April the trials of several politically motivated cases were conducted in Belarus. As a result the country got 12 new political convicts, two of whom were sentenced to imprisonment. Despite the addresses of the international structures, the European countries and the US to the Belarusian authorities, politically motivated criminal persecution in Belarus continued and acquired new forms.
On 29 April in Minsk the press conference Evaluation of the contemporary situation of Human Rights in Belarus and presentation of the yearly Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus took place. The event was attended by well-known Belarusian Human Rights defenders, representatives of the Czech Embassy and the OSCE mission and victims of political repressions. Summing up the results of year 2007, the deputy president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Ales Bialiatski, pointed that restriction of public and political rights in Belarus was a logical result of development of the totalitarian regime, for which Human Rights are a hostile thing, incompatible with its existence. The situation continues deteriorating – more and more people become political prisoners and victims of different kinds of repressions. Despite the recent refusal in state registration, Human Rights defenders were not going to stop their activities even under the threat of criminal persecution.
On 26 April the traditional Chernobyl Way action dedicated to an anniversary of Chernobyl accident took place. This year one of the aims of the action was also to protest against the liquidation of social guarantees to victims and liquidators of Chernobyl accident and the state plans to construct a new nuclear power station. Minsk city executive committee authorized the rally, but changed its route. Besides, on 24 April four organizers of the action were summoned to Minsk city prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor Mikalai Kulik held a prophylactic talk with them and warned that he was ready to bring criminal cases in the case of law violations during the action. On the eve of the action KGB confiscated all leaflets and stickers with invitations to the action, produced by the BPF, the United Democratic Forces and the For Freedom movement. Everything was confiscated during transportation to the offices. All ‘suspicious’ offices were searched and several printing houses that were suspected in printing leaflets were sealed on the eve of the rally. As usual, some regional activists were warned by the police about the inadmissibility of participation in unauthorized mass actions. Those who dared to go to Minsk were detained or put off the vehicles. Chernobyl Way ended without any incidents and provocations, but the number of participants was much less than in the previous year.
In April the escalation of the Belarusian-American relations led to a diplomatic scandal. The crisis started yet in March, after the Ministry of Finances of the US published at its web-site the official statements of the reasons for sanctions against the Belarusian concern Belnaftakhim. On 7 March the ambassador of Belarus in the US was recalled for consultations and on 12 March the US ambassador Karen Stuart had to leave Belarus on the demand of the Belarusian side. Then the US Embassy in Minsk was advised to decrease the number of its staff to 15 officers. As a result on 27 March 17 American diplomats left the Belarusian capital, which caused a temporary irregularity in the issue of visas. On 30 March the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus presented to Jonathan Moore, temporary chargé d'affaires of the US in Belarus, a document by which ten of the remaining American diplomats were declared personae non-grata and were ordered to leave the country in 72 hours. Mr. Moore officially stated that he considered such actions of the official Minsk unjustified, groundless and illegitimate. He said that the economic sanctions against Belarus would be extended and the US would continue demanding the release of all political prisoners in Belarus.
On 7 April the EU Council on transport, telecommunications and energy extended for another year the sanctions against a number of high-rank Belarusian officials. According to the press service of the EU Council, the sanctions could be reviewed any moment and the list of the target persons could be either extended or shortened. In April the list included 41 officials. All of them were banned entrance to the EU and their European financial accounts were frozen.
1. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 1 April the criminal proceedings against the youth activist Andrei Kim started at Tsentralny district court of Minsk. Kim was accused of having beaten a policeman on 21 January, during a protest rally of entrepreneurs. In the beginning of the hearings the judge, Alena Iliina, prohibited video and photo shooting. Three journalists did not obey this requirement and were lead out of the court hall. Kim’s lawyer, Tamara Sidarenka, solicited for the release of the defendant on bail, but the petition was not granted. The state accuser Lukyianau solicited for amalgamation of the two criminal cases against the defendant into one. The judge granted the petition and the trial was postponed.
On 22 April Alena Iliina read verdicts to ten of the youth activists who were accused under Article 342, part 1 of the Criminal Code (‘organization or active participation in the group actions that grossly violate the public order’) for participation in the entrepreneurs’ protest rally on 10 January. Anton Koipish and Uladzimir Siarheyeu were fined 3.5 million rubles ($1 643) each. Aliaksei Bondar, Ales Charnyshou, Artsiom Dubski, Mikhail Kryvau, Mikhail Pashkevich, Ales Straltsou and Tatsiana Tsishkevich were sentenced to two years of personal restraint without direction to open penitentiary facilities. They cannot leave Belarus.
Andrei Kim was found guilty on both accusations and sentenced to 1.5 years of imprisonment.
On 23 April Maskouski district court of Minsk pronounced the verdict to a leader of Vitsebsk entrepreneurs Siarhei Parsiukevich. Judge Uladzimir Audzeyenka found him guilty under Article 364 of the Criminal Code (violence or threat of violence to a policeman) and sentenced to 2.5 years of jail. Parsiukevich was also sentenced to pay to the ‘victim’, police officer Alexander Dulub, 1.1 million rubles (about $516) for moral harm. On April 28 the convict appealed against the unfair verdict at Minsk city court.
On 8 April the judge of the court of Polatsk town and district Marozava ruled to fine the youth activist Katsiaryna Salauyova 1 750 000 rubles (about $822) under Article 193.1 (activities on behalf of unregistered organization) for activities on behalf of the unregistered youth organization Young Front. During the trial Katsiaryna’s friends held a picket of solidarity near the court building. They were detained and tried for it.
At the end of April the chair of Homel branch of the Young Front, Andrei Tsianiuta, received a letter signed by the investigator of Homel KGB office, D. Sidliarou, where it was stated that the criminal case under Article 193.1, reopened in autumn, was dropped according to provisions of Article 259, part 1 of the Criminal Process Code. The matter is that about a month before Tsianiuta lodged a complaint with the chairman of the Belarusian KGB Yury Zhadobin and demanded that the unlawful criminal persecution was stopped or the criminal case was passed to court. The complaint was readdressed to Homel prosecutor’s office that decided to grant it. The confiscated property was also returned to the activist. At the same time, Kiryla Atamanchyk and Arsen Yahorchanka, two other figurants in this very criminal case, still had the status of suspects.
2. The right to association
On 17 April the Human Rights defenders Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich and Valiantsin Stefanovich addressed the chairman of the Supreme Court with the request to appeal against the verdict of the Supreme Court of 26 October 2007 concerning the denial of state registration to the Human Rights NGO Viasna. Despite the fact that the registration documents that were passed to the Ministry of Justice corresponded to the legal requirements, the Ministry of Justice refused to register the organization. The Human Rights defenders applied to the Supreme Court, which took the side of the ministry. ‘The reasons for non-registration that were mentioned in the verdict of the Supreme Court, constitute an inadmissible violation of the right to association and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,’ is stated in the complaint of the NGO founders.
23 April the Ministry of Justice of Belarus delayed the registration of the Human Rights civil association Movement ‘For Freedom’. The deputy minister of justice proposed to Alexander Milinkevich, organization leader, to correct the documents within one month. The main pretension of the Ministry of Justice was that the aims and tasks that were stated in the organization charter, did not correspond to the platform of the ‘For Freedom’ movement which was published at the personal web site of Alexander Milinkevich. Besides, allegedly there were found some mismatches in the graphical scheme of the organization structure that was presented together with the registration documents. Milinkevich was informed about the ruling on registration delay only two weeks after it was taken.
3. Freedom of expression and the right to disseminate information
On 1 April the Belarusian Association of Journalists again addressed the Prosecutor General Ryhor Vasilevich in connection with the searches that had been conducted by KGB officers in the apartments of independent journalists and a number of offices on 27-28 March. Earlier Minsk city prosecutor’s office answered that ‘the searches were conducted for sufficient reasons and in conformity with the legislation’. In the letter signed by Siarhei Ivanou, chairman of the investigation department of Minsk city prosecutor’s office, it is stated that the searches were conducted within the frames of the preliminary investigation of the criminal case brought under Article 367, part 1 of the Criminal Code (defamation of president) against A. Abozau, P. Marozau and A. Minich. ‘Your statements… have been considered and attached to the materials of the criminal case’, Ivanou writes. Thus, the answer of the prosecutor’s office again contradicts to the commentary made by the chair of the informational service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Maryia Vanshyna on 27 March. She stated that the searches were connected to the activities of the journalists who worked for foreign mass media without official accreditation.
On 15 April the judge of Pershamaiski district court of Minsk Ala Yanchanka sentenced the journalist Anatol Udavichenka, resident of Barysau, to 14 days of arrest under Article 23.34, part 1 of the Administrative Code (violation of the rules of organizing and holding mass actions). The police accused him of having distributed stickers with invitations to the Chernobyl Way action. The journalist pleaded innocent.
On 16 April the deputy editor of the Narodnaya Volia newspaper Maryna Koktysh addressed the chairman of the Chamber of Representatives of the Belarusian Parliament, Vadzim Papou, in connection with the refusal of this state organ to give her accreditation. The matter is that on 25 March the newspaper applied to the Chamber of Representatives requiring accreditation for its journalist, but received a negative answer dated 8 April. The chairman of the Regular commission on Human Rights, national relations and mass media Yury Kulakouski recommended the editorial board of the newspaper to propose another candidacy, as M. Koktysh was prohibited to enter the building of the House of the Parliament. He did not tell who, when and why had taken such a decision. The journalist stated that this refusal was unlawful and violated her rights, the law On press and other mass media and the Rules for accrediting of media correspondents at the Chamber of Representatives. In her complaint she asked the chairman of the Chamber of Representatives to make the commission reverse its decision. Otherwise she was going to apply to the court.
On 17 April the policemen of Zhlobin district police department confiscated about 1 200 copies of the non-state newspaper Tovarishch. They explained that the newspapers were to be checked for articles with ‘destructive content’. The order for exaction of the newspapers was based on a KGB report.
The editorial office of the non-state newspaper Hazeta Slonimskaya received a letter signed by the chairman of Slonim district executive committee Mechyslau Kastsiuk, where it was stated that several cases of sale of the newspaper in improper places had been registered. In the case of repeated violation the local authorities threatened to suspend the issue of the newspaper or annul the license for its retail. The chief editor of the newspaper Viktar Valadashchuk said that it might be a part of preparation of the district executive committee to a talk with him concerning the extension of the license for retail, which would expire on 25 June. ‘The authorities are purposefully trying to get rid of the only registered non-state edition in Hrodna regional. It can be connected to the upcoming parliamentary election,’ said the editor. Besides, he reminded that the editorial board was forced to leave its office by 1 June as the state enterprise Slonimski bytkambinat refused to extend the rent agreement.
4. Detentions and administrative penalties to public and political activists
On 1 April the judge of Chyhunachny district court of Vitsebsk, Raman Dehoda, sentenced to five days of arrest the well-known activist and distributor of independent press, Barys Khamaida. The activist was accused under Article 23.34, part 3 of the Administrative Code for participation in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic.
On 2 April representatives of the For Freedom movement tried to hold a picket near the Russian Embassy in Minsk timed to the official holiday, the Day of unity of the peoples of Belarus and the Russia. They brought a white-red-white flag and a banner ‘No to Russia, yes to Europe’. The Embassy guard called the police who violently disbanded the action. Palina Dziakava and Palina Kuryianovich were guarded to Tsentralny district police department of Minsk. Reports under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the rules of organizing and holding mass actions) were drawn up against them. Then Palina Kuryianovich was taken to the remand prison in Akrestsin Street and Palina Dziakava was released in about three hours because she was under age. On 3 April the judge of Tsentralny district court of Minsk Tatsiana Pauliuchuk found Palina Kuryianovich guilty and sentenced her to ten days of arrest.
On 8 April the police detained the youth activists Mauliuda Atakulava and Aliaksei Yanusheuski at the picket in support of Katsiaryna Salauyova near the court of Polatsk city and district. Atakulava had to spend the night in prison. On 9 April she was fined 1 225 000 rubles (about $570) under Article 23.34. Aliaksei Yanusheuski was fined 115 000 rubles (about $54).
On 11 April the court of Pukhavichy district fined Siarhei Abrazouski 1.4 million rubles (about $657) for having organized an unauthorized action of protest against construction of a chemical plant. In fact, it was a spontaneous action that took place on 22 March. Before the action the activists of the initiative, a group of citizens who are against construction of the plant, had maintained correspondence with all interested state organs for about a year. They many times applied to the local authorities for authorization of a protest action, but received refusals. The chemical plant was to be constructed by the Russian company Avgust-Bel with the aim to produce several kinds of pesticides of A-class danger. Dwellers of Druzhny, Svislach, Rudzensk, Dukora and other settlements did not believe to the official statements about the safety of this industry and demanded an independent technological and ecological expertise and a local referendum concerning the expedience of construction of the plant near the settlements.
On 11 April the administration of Salihorsk town executive committee gave huge fines to the under-aged persons who had participated in the social rally on 2 March and the Freedom Day act on 25 March. For the first action Khrystsina Samoilava and Ivan Shyla were fined 1 050 000 rubles (about $492) each, and Andrei Tychyna – 700 000 rubles (about $328). Bear in mind that before this Ivan’s father, Uladzimir Shyla, served 15 days of arrest for organization of the social rally. For participation in the Freedom Day act Khrystsina Samoilava and Ivan Shyla were fined 700 000 rubles each, Ryhor Astapenia was fined 875 000 rubles (about $411) and Maxim Hlukhau was given a warning. An administrative report was also composed on Ivan’s brother, under-aged Illia Shyla. As a result their father, Uladzimir Shyla, was fined 525 000 rubles (about $246) for wrong upbringing of the child. The total sum of the fines exceeded 5 million rubles (about $2 500). The activist said he would appeal against the fines. The previous year the court twice decreased the fines to the accused as a result of their appeals.
On 18 April the administrative commission of military unit #1234 of Lida ruled to fine Anzhalika Borys, chairperson of the Union of Poles in Belarus in disgrace, the journalist of Magazyn Polski Ihar Bantsar and the driver Viktar Borys 525 000 rubles for presence in the border zone without the necessary documents. They were detained on 14 April in the settlement of Radun in Voranau district together with eight citizens of Poland who came to Belarus on cultural exchange.
On 25 March the court of Minsk district ruled to fine the activist of the BPF Party Uladzimir Kishkurna 525 000 rubles under Article 23.34. On 21 March Uladzimir Kiskhurna was detained near the settlement of Kaliadzichy (Minsk district) while driving his car. The police inspected the car and found there leaflets dedicated to the traditional act in memory of Chernobyl accident. Kishkurna was escorted to the police department where a violation report was drawn up and the leaflets were confiscated.
In April the participants of a historical excursion in honor of the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic were tried. On 23 March about 20 persons with red and white air balloons visited the places connected with the life and activities of the BPR’s minister Paluta Badunova. The police made video shots of the excursion and drew up violation reports against eight participants of the action. The judge of Navabelitsk district court of Homel Aleh Kharoshka found them guilty under Article 23.34. Ivan Adamenka was fined 700 000 rubles (about $328), journalist Tatsiana Bublikava and Zmitser Kutasau – 525 000 rubles each, pensioner Uladzimir Niapomniashchy was sentenced to 15 days of arrest, Alexander Protska – to 7 days, Sviataslau Shapavalau – to 10 days, Siarhei Tryfanau – to 10 days and Maryia Tulzhankova – to 7 days.
5. Politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
On 5 April the youth activist of the BPF Party Franak Viachorka (who had been expelled from the journalistic faculty of the Belarusian State University) sued BSU rector Vasil Strazhau in Minsk city court. The matter is that the former student didn’t receive any answer to his complaint to the rector concerning the unlawful actions of the BSU administration and the Ministry of Education. Besides, on 5 April, after the ‘professional-psychological interview’ the commission of teachers headed by the dean of the journalism faculty Siarhei Dubovik refused to issue to Franak Viachorka a letter of recommendation for this year’s entrance examinations to the faculty.
On 17 April, after the Young Front activist Mauliuda Atakulava got several administrative penalties including imprisonment, the administration of the Belarusian State Economic University, under the pressure of the KGB, petitioned the rector Shymau for her expulsion from the third year of the faculty of tourism. However, the student labor committee stood against the groundless expulsion, as the student almost did not miss classes and demonstrated a good academic progress, having the average mark about 7,5 out of 10 possible. More than 200 signatures were collected in support of the student on all nine faculties of the university. ‘It was the first time when the student labor committee opposed to a decision of the rector’s office. Usually the labor committees support all initiatives of university administrations. This time the labor committee not only disagreed, but even submitted a protest note to rector Shymau’, said one of the initiators of the campaign in defense of the activist. As a result Mauliuda Atakulava was left in the university, but received a severe reprimand.
On 17 April the judge of Dobrush district court Volha Sychova rejected the suit of the member of the United Civil Party, teacher Klaudziya Varanets, concerning her rehabilitation at the place of work. The teacher is a liquidator of the consequences Chernobyl accident. She was dismissed while taking a course of recreation abroad. The UCP lawyer Leanid Sudalenka, who represented the teacher’s interests in court, stated that during the dismissal the school administration and the local education department violated not only the law on liquidators of the Chernobyl accident, but also the Labor Code and the collective agreement. That’s why the verdict of Judge Sychova seems to be politically motivated. Klaudziya Varanets said she would appeal against it at a higher court.
In April the activist of the United Civil Party Mikhail Pashkevich was expelled from the historical faculty of the Belarusian State University. ‘The matter is that this summer I have been expelled from the university because of my participation in the elections to Minsk city soviet of deputies. Then I continued my studies in the sixth year of the tuition faculty at the same university. Now the teachers refuse to put down my mark for the exam on the methodology of history, which I have passed. At the dean’s office I was openly told that the decision about it was taken not even by the rector, but by some higher officials,’ Pashkevich says. To his mind, the expulsion is connected to the criminal case against him that was brought as a result of his participation in the entrepreneurs’ rally on 10 January, participation in celebration of the Freedom Day and for his being one of the organizers of the Chernobyl Way action in 2008.
6. Freedom of conscience
On 22 April Maskouski district court of Minsk ruled to fine Pavel Seviarynets, co-chairman of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, 1.4 million rubles (about $657) for allegedly illegal collection of 50 000 signatures for amendment of the religious legislation. The administrative report under Article 9.10 of the Administrative Code (violation of the legislation on realization of the right to legislative initiative of citizens) was drawn up against Pavel Seviarynets on 1 April at the prosecutor’s office, where he was guarded by the policemen in civvies who had detained him in the metro. In his speech at the trial Pavel Seviarynets explained why he had not applied to the Central Election Commission with these signatures. He stated that the CEC had no authority and the results of the Belarusian elections were not recognized in the world. He also said that by its actions the prosecutor’s office supported harassment of believers.
On 25 March the judge of Maskouski district court of Minsk Uladzimir Audzeyenka ruled to fine the pastor of the New Life Church Viachaslau Hancharenka 1.4 million rubles under Article 9.10 for collection of signatures under the demand to amend the religious legislation. Hancharenka was also fined 350 000 rubles (about $164) for non-implementation of the ruling of Maskouski district prosecutor’s office of Minsk by which he was obliged to let in the temple the state inspectors on energy.
On 25 March the lawyer of the New Life Church Siarhei Lukanin, coordinator of the Campaign for protection of the freedom of conscience Siarhei Lukanin was fined the same sum. Mr. Lukanin was tried in absentia, because at the time of the trial he was at the international conference of the European Christian democratic parties in Helsinki, reading a report about violations of the rights of believers in Belarus.
7. The right to peaceful assemblies
On 25 March Savetski district court of Minsk ruled to exact from the organizers of the European March more than 3.5 million rubles in demands of the state enterprises Minskzelianbud and Remautador of Savetski and Pershamaiski districts of Minsk.
According to Minskzelianbud, on 14 October 2007 the action participants trampled a lawn, broke a lime tree and several bushes. The enterprise demanded 1.4 million rubles in damages. The judge granted the claim. The Remautador enterprises of Savetski and Pershamaiski districts demanded from the rally organizers more than 2.1 million rubles for cleaning the territory after the action, which allegedly demanded additional personnel and equipment. Even bonus wages for the cleaners were introduced in this sum. This claim was also satisfied. Thus, the total sum of the compensations became almost 5.6 million rubles. In the beginning of May Savetski district court of Minsk was to consider six analogical suits.
On 25 March activists of Mahiliou regional branch of the Belarusian trade union of radio electronic industry held a working meeting which ended with interrogation of its participants. According to the head of the regional branch Halina Lisitsyna, after a supper in a café the meeting participants started to disperse, whereas its organizers were detained by six policemen because of a ‘signal’ about an unauthorized action. The trade union activists were kept at the police station for more than three hours. The interrogation minutes were composed and some informational materials were confiscated from the detainees. The police ignored the statements that the trade union was an officially registered organization, whose members had the right to meet and discuss the daily issues. The trade union administration lodged a complaint with Kastrychnitski district police department of Mahiliou.
8. Actions of security services
On 16 April the youth activist Krystsina Marchuk was interrogated for two hours at Hrodna KGB office. The writ that was presented to Krystsina by the dean of the philological faculty of Hrodna state university did not contain any information as to the reasons for the interrogation and her status. In the beginning of the talk the KGB workers blankly refused to introduce themselves. Then the girl said she would not give any statements. The KGB workers asked her about the circumstances of her detention in Minsk together with other members of Young Front. In the end the KGB officers warned Krystsina about criminal responsibility for participation in the unregistered organization.
In the middle of April an activist of the United Civil Party from Hrodna, Uladzimir Laryn, was summoned to Hrodna regional KGB office. The KGB officer Rushnitski warned the activist that in the case of further participation in the oppositional activities a criminal case under Article 342 (organization or active participation of actions that grossly violate the public order) could be brought against him. He reminded Laryn about earlier detentions and administrative penalties and participation in celebration of Freedom Day on 25 March. Written statements were taken from the activist, then he was let go.